Holy

11 05 2008

Leah wrote:

The problem is that most people, even cradle Catholics, are not going to have the kind of Catholic childhood that you’re describing. What then? We can’t just collapse Catholicism into an ethnicity that you have to be born into. Otherwise, there’s no need to engage in missionary work.

I think the main problem is not one of upbringing, but rather of attitude. I think when most modern religious people think of God and holiness, they either conceive these things as some force akin to gravity that is necessary for good moral and epistemological order, or that these things offer us a “personal relationship” that makes us feel good (as in being “spiritual people” in the postmodern sense). I think that these attitudes are not just naive, but outright dangerous to religion in general.

In the the Book of Isaiah, God is called thrice-holy, and the Seraphim have to cover their face in order not to behold Him. The original sense of the word “kadosh” is not a moralistic or ethical description; it doesn’t mean that God “behaves” Himself or conforms to our conventions of “niceness”. “Kadosh” means that God is radically other, that He is beyond anything that we can conceive, and in the end, He is awe-inspiring and frightening. Indeed, even if the idols of the pagans are terrible to look at, the God of the Old Testament can’t even be looked in the face. You will die if you do look at Him, full-stop.

And lest we think that this was one of the things that Jesus came to eliminate, let us remind ourselves of how Jesus in portrayed in the Book of the Apocalypse. When was the last time you saw a seven-horned, seven-eyed lamb walking around?:

My point is that even if God is in our discourse as Americans, He doesn’t really haunt our existence. We keep Him at bay, in my opinion. with our sterilized forms of religious discourse. He is quite tame and unintrusive.  If the traditional cultures that I cite have anything that others should learn from, it is that the supernatural does indeed haunt them. I don’t think this “haunting” is optional or specific to them; it is all-too-necessary. How we recover this sense is the task at hand.


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6 responses

21 05 2008
Arturo Vasquez

“Dum veneris ivdicare saecvlvm per ignem”

21 05 2008
Tripp

“No tame lion.” Somehow we have lost that. C.S. Lewis tried to re-engage us in that understanding in a children’s story. But it has since stayed there. Unless, of course, you think that the traditional “fire and brimstone” Baptist preaching begins to touch on it. But I am not so sure that does either. It too misses the mark, but it tries. We are a scientific people. It’s that simple. Western culture is not intellectual. It’s scientific. And that’s where we struggle when we talk about God. We attempt sacred taxonomy. But it’s just labels after a while.

13 05 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Shepherd,

Stay tuned, then. There are some posts in my oven now that might be to your interest.

Just a footnote, maybe not relavent to this conversation, but more general: I cannot escape the idea that the difference between my idea of Catholicism (and what it would seem to me would be the idea that is traditional at least how understand it) is that I have a religion of details. Coming out of the confusion of the 1960’s, even most devout Catholics in the First World seem to have a religion of principles. I have never been able, as I have said in the past, to think that you can alter all the details while the principles stay the same. It just “does not compute” for me.

13 05 2008
The Shepherd

“My point is that even if God is in our discourse as Americans, He doesn’t really haunt our existence. We keep Him at bay, in my opinion. with our sterilized forms of religious discourse.”

This kind of reminds me of the opening scene in that great film No Country for Old Men. When Llewellyn arrives at the shooting aftermath and he looks inside the Mexican drug dealer’s trucks you can notice all sorts of holy cards and rosaries plastered inside. Now all these guys were the types that would probably slit your throat for a nickel but they still had a sense of Christianity in their lives. Some people might think that these brutal people having such things is hypocritical but at the same time I think it speaks to a kind of authenticity that is not too easily found western religion.

12 05 2008
dave m

The above image is a demon, not G-d, and not analagous to the images of G-d in Sacred Scripture. It is frightening and not in a good way.

11 05 2008
tony c

We live in a lo-fidelity spiritual environment. By this I mean we have lots of noise and distractions so that we can’t hear God’s voice; a bad signal-to-noise ratio, to put it in audiophile terms. Busy, busy, busy. (Guilty as charged, myself.)

Plus, we’re disconnected from the earth. We’ve built our little infrastructure with electricity and indoor plumbing and 24 hour cable TV. So we don’t follow the rhythms of the sun and moon like our agrarian ancestors. Our food comes neatly shrinkwrapped. How many people can gut a fish, pluck a chicken, or even bake a loaf of bread anymore? Our old world cultures have been cooked away in the melting pot of the great American experiment. We’re lost in our Tower of Babel of modernity; we’ve lost the wonder of nature, of creation, and thus God.

As the economy sours, and people have to start cutting back on luxuries and endless entertainment, perhaps we’ll have more time to notice God and His creation and find our place again.

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